Agriculture gets the rock star treatment

The World Food Prize ceremony Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Teresa Avila.

The World Food Prize ceremony Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Teresa Avila

The music group Kaivama performs the “Borlaug Polka” Wednesday night at the World Food Prize ceremony.

The music group Kaivama performs the “Borlaug Polka” Wednesday night at the World Food Prize ceremony. Photo by Teresa Avila.

By Teresa Avila

DES MOINES, Iowa — Polka, pomp and prizes surrounded the 2013 World Food Prize Laureate Award ceremony on Thursday night.

Near the beginning of the ceremony, the two screens asked the audience: can we sustainably feed 9 billion people? It’s a question at the center of the World Food Prize and the Borlaug Dialogue here this week.

After Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, he wanted to create a similar prize that focused on agriculture and increasing the world’s food supply. Starting in 1986, such an award was realized in the World Food Prize.

Now, every year, the World Food Prize is awarded during the Borlaug Dialogue, in a ceremony at the Iowa State Capital.

“We’re honored that what’s often called the Nobel Prize for agriculture is located right here in Iowa,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said as he addressed the crowd. Where usually Iowa representatives would be seated, some 800 guests listened to speeches and live music and watched several videos highlighting the World Food Prize’s mission, programs and notable individuals.

The main event was the presentation of the prize to the three laureates: Marc Von Montagu, Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert T. Fraley.

The ceremony had an overall festive atmosphere with Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, overseeing the night’s events.

“Norman is no longer with us, but his spirit still animates our work,” Quinn said.

Not just in terms of research and outreach, it seems, but in the fine arts as well.

Halfway through the ceremony, the three-man musical group Kaivama performed the “Borlaug Polka,” composed by group member Johnathan Rundman. A folksy, cheerful tune, the piece was inspired by Borlaug’s work. The group followed up with “King of the Road” in honor of John Ruan, an Iowa businessman whose interests included a trucking company and who worked with Borlaug to create the World Food Prize.

The ceremony closed with a musical number commissioned by Quinn and performed by the Des Moines Choral Society: “The Laureate Call.”

It’s not often that agriculture receives such celebration, and several attendees appreciated the fanfare and what it represented.

“There are many things that appeal to me about it,” Dave Lunt of Texas A&M University said. “One is them is the unity that people from so many cultures, languages and countries feel.”

Just about everyone, Lunt said, repeated the sentiment that hunger should not be tolerated, and that it was heartening to see that people are so passionate about the issue.

“It’s a wonderful statement,” Elsa Murano, also of Texas A&M University, said. “It’s a tribute to Borlaug and the state of Iowa and their dedication to stop world hunger.”

For once, she said, agricultural stars were treated like rock stars.

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